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I noticed something as a game master of one ongoing game and a player in another. In both games, whenever a decision had to be made outside of combat, the most high energy players were blurting out whatever they wanted, made a decision, and the table ran with it. This led to a lot of exciting things around the table, but it also meant that there was one or two players who sat back and didn't do much.

To spread out the spotlight better, the other GM and I enforced turn taking outside of combat. This meant that everyone got the spotlight once in a while. Unfortunately, we lost the table energy we had before. Players didn't talk to each other about what to do, so the game is less social, the party is more apt to split, and players don't have as many fun ideas. In addition, we still have players that feel pretty stumped about what they can do to help.

Some solutions aren't specific to the game system, but we're playing Fate Accelerated Edition. The rule book doesn't say much about spotlight beyond saying that it's the GM's job. Turn taking, which we hoped could solve the spotlight problem, is described only in the Conflict section of the rules only. I don't explicitly think about scene boundaries or challenges in game, but naturally things come up that people need to roll for.

tldr; What's a way we can make sure all players get time in the spotlight when it's not combat time? Turn taking didn't work for us.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of Handling a player (unintentionally) stealing the spotlight \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Oct 20 '19 at 19:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 21 '19 at 2:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM, I didn't think that was relevant at first, but I'm thinking about it. I have three excellent answers here, too, so it's hard for me to decide who gets the green checkmark. I find that this is helping me think about my game and talk to the other GM about his game. He has a different take on what the problems are too. \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Oct 28 '19 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the so many excellent answers, Dale M, Glazius, Fernando Arrue, and user59614. This is what worked for me in my latest session: 1. Accept that some players will be in the background. 2. Don't use turn order. Let them blurt out ideas and act on them as a group. 3. Get the NPCs to engage all the players. According to my observations is what worked for the other GM during the session he ran: 1. Talk to all the players in depth about what they like and don't like. 2. End turns quickly so players don't get bored. \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Nov 17 '19 at 19:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related question: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/163787/… \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Mar 10 '20 at 22:42
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Running initiative for everything is not a good solution to adjudicate spotlight-sharing.

You can usually divide players into foreground and background styles of players.

Foreground-style players are very proactive, love taking charge, love the spotlight, but bad versions of the style can easily hog to much of the spotlight. Often to improve as a player a foreground style player have to learn how to step back a bit and give other people some space. Foreground style players are excellent to get stuff to happen.

Background-style players are the opposite. They love sitting back and enjoying the story. They often have a specific subset of things they are interested in doing, and are quite content only pursuing those things and will sit back and enjoy the game otherwise. Bad background style players are to passive, never taking any action, and less bad versions remain to unassertive. To improve background style players often have to practice taking charge when they have something that interests them. Background style players are excellent in larger groups because they are low maintenance, and they are excellent in order to make the game stay in some kind of track for longer than half a minute. (Whether it's the plot or it's some foreground characters scheme)

Note though: Both types of players enjoy their own style.

You are trying to resolve something that is up to in part player and your own skill and in part player preference by forcing mechanical stuff.

My recommendations:

  1. Think about or ask what the less assertive players find fun.

  2. Talk to your players to find out what they want and to encourage them to give others the spotlight/actually try to do things.

  3. Practice not using initiative for combat. This is important because you don't need initiative for combat and it sounds like you are over-relying on mechanics, i.e. you are using initiative as a crutch instead of a useful tool. You could try running a few one-shots of Dungeon World as I've heard it is an initiative less system, though it would be easier to just use a system you are used to. You do not even have to do it as part of the game. Just tell one or two of your players "I want to practice running combat in a few different ways, would you be okay with helping me test out a few scenarios in an evening?" Then have a practice session where you run trough a few combat scenarios.

This would force you to practice dividing the spotlight, which is an important GM skill you do not want to try to substitute with mechanics.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Running initiative for everything is not a good solution to adjudicate spotlight. \$\endgroup\$ – user59614 Oct 21 '19 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I've edited that clarification into your answer :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 21 '19 at 9:11
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Not everyone plays with the same intensity*.

Based on the way that you've phrased the question, it seems like you as GMs have decided that unequal spotlight is a problem that the players have and the players aren't particularly enthused about the way you're going about solving it.

Are you sure that you're actually solving a problem the players really have? People play roleplaying games for all manner of reasons, and one of those reasons is to be entertained by the other players. People have different levels of skill, too, and some have a much easier time of fitting their character into an arbitrary scene than others do.

If you're just forcing people to do something they're not good at because of a problem only you can see, stop. It's not helping.

*...all the time.

It may also be possible you're expecting people to step up into a scene their aspects don't particularly care about. An easy way for measuring that is how many of their aspects might be compelled or invoked in the scene - if you can't think of one, maybe they just shouldn't be involved. If you can think of one, but only one, the case isn't that much better.

Aspects aren't the entirety of a character, of course, but they should at least be a significant approximation. And people have a lot more trouble finding something to do in a scene they don't really belong in.

Not all games need people to play with the same intensity all the time, either.

If you're playing a game that centers on precise tactical combat, everybody needs to be up for precise tactical combat every game session. If you're playing a game that centers on player-driven plotting with no definite sides, everybody needs to be up for self-directed scening every game session. If you're playing a game that centers on player appreciation of how adorable all the characters are, everybody needs to be up for cute, silly riffing on a central premise every game session.

Fate is an engine with a heavy bias toward proactive, capable characters that can take meaningful action right out the starting gate, but that doesn't make any game style particularly inevitable, and you have some more leeway to adapt Fate to your player group's preferences. It doesn't sound like they have a particular problem with taking turns in the formal structure of a conflict, so here are some ways you can put structure outside a combat:

A: No Unstructured Prompts

This is in keeping with a core axiom of Fate GMing about when to ask for rolls. Asking for a roll starting from the principle that the roll is needed for some parity in participation is likely to violate it.

Roll the dice when succeeding or failing at the action could each contribute something interesting to the game.

[...]

If you can't imagine an interesting outcome from both results, then don't call for that roll. If failure is the uninteresting option, just give the PCs what they want and call for a roll later, when you can think of an interesting failure. If success is the boring option, then see if you can turn your idea for failure into a compel instead, using that moment as an opportunity to funnel fate points to the players.

When to Roll Dice, Fate SRD, "What to Do During Play"

A solid way to set up something interesting happening is to present the PC you're prompting for action with some dramatic fact in the setting - a fleeting opportunity, or an imminent threat, along with enough setup that they understand what they stand to gain or lose.

B: The Advantage Two-Step

A simple way to set up someone else's participation in a course of action that seems likely to resolve things in one go is to turn one player making one roll into two players making two rolls; a create an advantage that's then followed up on. Because creating an advantage creates an aspect, which is a truth about the game world, setting this up is as easy as finding a reason why solving the problem in one go isn't possible.

As Dark Stobolous's Sable Troopers chase them through the cargo bay, Starhound declares a course of action and poses dramatically; he's going to shoot out the cargo bay release and dump all their pursuers into the blackness of space.

To set this up as a two-step, you could for example say that someone needs to set the troopers up so they'll be in position long enough for this trick to work, like Athens vaulting over them Creating an Advantage called She Went Thataway to snarl them up trying to pursue her, or that the Sable Troopers all have EVA gear and Starhound's shot will Create an Advantage on them called Outside Looking In that buys Twilliam some extra time to riffle through the cargo manifests to find the planet-cracker key they're looking for.

C: Other Things That Start With C

You could also spool things out into a different structured play element. Conflicts are only appropriate when each side wants to hurt the other, but even when your outspoken player isn't pointing that way, what they do can kick off a challenges, a contests, or a cliffhanger. (Cliffhangers were first seen in the pay-what-you-want supplement Masters of Umdaar. They're a challenge-like activity under dangerous circumstances with difficulties based on how you meet it, that can avoid the strict "don't repeat yourself" element of challenges that might be difficult to pull off in Accelerated.)

Transitioning to a different game element with its own rules can provide some structure to operate in, like requirements and goals, even if it doesn't have the strict measured nature of a conflict.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @Glazius. Can you tell me a little bit more about how cliffhangers work, or point me in the right direction? \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Nov 17 '19 at 18:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jetpack If you follow the link under part C you'll be able to get the PDF at a price of your choice, including free. The rules for cliffhangers start on page 26. \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Nov 18 '19 at 6:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, @Glazius. I read it. That looks like a lot of fun. In summary: there's a task that has different difficulty levels depending on which approach you use. If the party succeeds 3 times out of 5, it goes well. Otherwise, something bad happens. \$\endgroup\$ – Jetpack Nov 24 '19 at 23:36
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I don't use the fate system, but this is a pretty universal problem in TTRPGs, so I've found there are a few ways to handle this:

  1. You can literally pause your chatterboxes after they've described their action and say "while all this is happening... [name], what are you doing?"

    The downside of that approach is it can put those players on the spot. It can work super easily, but if you find that it's counter-productive, try a different approach. You have to remember that some people are just quiet and while they probably would like a chance to participate more, they won't appreciate being thrown into the spotlight with no warning.

  2. The softest approach you can give to encourage a particular player to become more active is to actually include hooks and background-specific NPCs or activities that they would like to engage with during those non-combat opportunities. This gets hyper-specific, so it's hard to know exactly what your options are without details, but if it's the intelligent character whose player isn't getting attention, maybe they show up to the bar and it's trivia night. Maybe their ex is the waiter/waitress or, worse yet, the NPC that needs them to perform whatever task.

    There is a stereotype that if the DM or GM is going to do anything with your background it's going to be horrible - parents dying, etc. Don't feed into that. Show them that you aren't just setting traps for them and want to encourage their good role playing by letting them develop their characters outside of combat.

  3. Talk to the players involved. Pull the quiet one off to the side after or before the session and talk to them about how you notice they don't get to say a lot. They might be a little embarrassed, but you can gently push this conversation forward by asking probing questions - what do you enjoy and not enjoy about the game? Do you want to talk to me more about your background? If you remember their background, "that school you went to, tell me more about it?" (or whatever, just get more details)

    Role playing games tend to be popular with introverts. I count myself as one of them. These games let us express ourselves in fantastical contrast to our typically reserved normal lives. But those real-world habits bleed over, especially with newer players, so its often lack of confidence, mixed with an overabundance of politeness (not wanting to interrupt the other players), that keeps some players on the sideline.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Oct 21 '19 at 2:02

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